Saturday, October 31, 2009


Relief Pitching

The Yankees are playing tonight so just read this nice article about Richard B. Katskee's visit to Susquehanna University. Katskee was the lawyer for Americans United for Separation of Church and State at the Kitzmiller case. This, from Katskee, is nice:

Katskee said this minority believes that the planet is heating up because we are moving closer and closer to Armageddon as described in the book of Revelations in the New Testament of the Bible. Therefore, if we reverse global warming on that view, Katskee said we are delaying the end of days, frustrating God's plan.

Katskee said: "Of course they are entitled to their religious beliefs, no question about it. They are entitled to teach those beliefs to their children, they are allowed to talk about it in church, at home, in the mall, whenever they want. We are all entitled to those things -- that's what religious freedom means. The real issue is: are they allowed to use the law to impose those beliefs on everybody else?"

Or, for comic relief, you can read Ray Comfort's "response" to Eugenie Scott. Needless to say, it is a typical creationist screed: Darwin was a bad man, therefore don't believe him; evolution is "atheistic;" and my favorite:

The problem when arguing with those who believe in atheistic evolution is that they move goal posts by redefining atheism or evolution or the word species. From Darwin to Dawkins, they speak the language of speculation, continually using words like probably, maybe, perhaps, and could've. And Darwinism is as nebulous as a puffy cloud on a hot windy day, forever moving, changing, and expanding—because its bounds are limited only by the fertile human imagination.

Nasty science! It keeps learning and updating itself and, therefore, is never certain, while Comfort's religion aspires only to maintain the beliefs of Bronze Age shepherds.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Counting ... and Holding ... Noses

Anika Smith, the the tankwoman in pink of the Discovery Institute, is at the DI's Ministry of Misinformation, touting the results of the recent Ipsos MORI poll showing that, even in Britain, a majority think that "other possible perspectives," such as intelligent design and creationism, should be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

Smith attempts to blunt the obvious rejoinder that the respondents are unaware that there are no other scientific perspectives this way:

While Darwin's apologists* might try to explain the poll numbers as an example of ignorance influencing people's beliefs, the numbers themselves suggest a different picture.

Across the board, most respondents from the ten countries polled thought that "other perspectives on the origins of species" "such as intelligent design and creationism" should be taught in science class*. When the poll is weighted to include only those respondents who have heard of Charles Darwin and know something about his theory of evolution, the percentage supporting alternate theories increases, from 60% to 66% in Britain and 60% to 64% in the U.S.

The basic truth is that most people want evolution to have to compete for its place of dominance in their schools.

The problem, of course, is that all creationists (in this case, referring to those who oppose the teaching of the unadulterated science of evolution) have heard Darwin's name ... he is the originator of the very thing they oppose and has been made the whipping boy of every preacher who wants his or her flock kept ignorant of the world around them so as not to put any doubts in their heads as to what the preachers are preaching. This point is neatly illustrated in the DI's own drumbeat use of "Darwinists" to refer to scientists and their supporters.

As to those respondents who '"know something about his theory of evolution," that is a self-assessment by the respondents, which has been shown to be unreliable. See: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

Andrew Husick, writing in The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis University's community newspaper, has a wonderful explanation why the opinion of the public at large as to what "competes" scientifically with evolutionary theory is not the proper measure:

The idea that the best information can be obtained by taking the average opinion of a large number of people, regardless of their capabilities, is a logical fallacy. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, proved this by imagining a country whose emperor was never seen by any of his people, and stayed walled off in a secret palace. Feynman posited that a traveling salesman who wishes to know the length of the emperor's nose could traverse the whole country asking every citizen for his or her opinion, and then take an average of the answers. In theory, the answer should be very accurate because it is the average of a large sample. Unfortunately, every person who participated was taking a guess, and not working from any real information, rendering the survey inaccurate. The salesman knows nothing more about the emperor's nose after the survey than he did before.

The analogy holds in this example. We can go and ask all 308 million people in the United States for their opinion on this matter, but most of them are not informed enough to make this decision effectively, and we won't be any closer to the goal of educating schoolchildren about science. We don't poll the general public for their input on the curriculum of medical school, and I think we would all prefer our surgeon to be trained by a surgeon instead of by plumbers, policemen, or politicians. Simply because we have a democratic system does not imply that the public at large should make the final decisions about every issue, especially when they are not equipped to use the correct decision-making calculus. Most people in America can not make informed decisions about biology, because they are not biologists.

This is especially the case when those same people, in the US at least, are being barraged with deliberate misinformation about biology by the DI and other religious opponents of science. The real lesson of the poll may be how badly scientists and educators are doing swimming against this tide.

Finally, Smith makes the now obligatory DI disclaimer:

It should be noted that Discovery Institute opposes efforts to mandate teaching alternative theories in the science classroom — we'd rather have the whole picture of evolution, the scientific arguments both for and against the theory, presented instead.

As we saw in the recent Texas curriculum battle, this is just a case where the creationists are stripping another term out of their script to try to avoid the Constitution's ban on proselytizing by government, while still pushing all the same moribund arguments under the "strengths and weaknesses" ploy.

I suppose we should update the phrase to "cweaknesses proponentsists."


* While Smith's use of "Darwin's apologists" is a not-so-subtle attempt to portray the science of evolution as a religious position, it is not the supporters of science who are characterizing it in that manner, unlike the case of the sympathizers of ID, who recognize its religious nature.

Thursday, October 29, 2009




David Klinghoffer has gone from merely being inane to being a sycophant of epic proportions.

One can only hope that Jonathan Wells and David Berlinski had full body condoms available to protect the various body parts that Klinghoffer was trying to insert his tongue in.

Klinghoffer effuses over the Discovery Institute's latest propaganda film, Darwin's Dilemma, too, as if the whole "Darwinism can't explain the Cambrian Explosion" bafflegab was wholly new to him ... which, if true, has to make you wonder just how Klinghoffer can be so confident in his belief in ID, if he is so ignorant of it's arguments that he doesn't already know about one of its oldest claims (and that of its creationist predecessors, for that matter).

But it is Berlinski who Klinghoffer is practically got his nose up the butt of. And if Klinghoffer is reporting it correctly, it is incredibly fatuous stuff he is so enamored of indeed. Take this:

I also loved his insight that the ugliness of the results of the Darwinian idea, its effects on our culture, are far from irrelevant in judging the idea's truth. This is another one of Darwin's dilemmas. Berlinski cited Keats, "'Truth is truth, beauty truth,' -- that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." No, he pointed out, you can't separate the consequences of Darwinian theory from its truth. Beauty may well be an aspect of truth.

Right! ... Poets are who we look to for scientific results ... and we all know that ID is science because the DI has told us so ... over and over again. Even Klinghoffer claims that what "matters to many of us who are involved with [ID] professionally" is the science. But he somehow nonetheless creams in his pants over Berlinski's Argumentum ad Poetica.

And then there's Klinghoffer's lauding of:

... David's very funny riff on how a cow-like creature could take to the seas as a proto-whale, per the Darwinian just-so story, including the challenge of developing nipples that work underwater.

Really! Repeating Duane Gish's lame joke about whales arising from "a cow" being an "udder failure" ... as famously reported by Stephen Jay Gould? Can't these guys even come up with mildly original shtick for their comedy routines? Of course, the animals we think are representative of the basal ancestors of whales aren't very cow-like (taken from Philip D. Gingerich's excellent website):

But when have the DI drones let a little thing like accuracy about what science actually says stand in the way of a "good" religious apology? And what's the creationist fascination with mammary glands anyway? Hippopotamuses have tits that work well on land and in water. Where's the big jump?

Still, Klinghoffer can't help but deliver a truly -- but inadvertently -- funny line:

The word that came to my mind watching [Darwin's Dilemma] was "spooky."

That's hardly surprising ... what with spirits poofing things into existence and all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The Mongering Hordes

Charles C. Haynes, a prominent First Amendment scholar has an article, "Say what you want, hate-crimes bill protects free speech," on why the lunatic right wing's tizzy about the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity (along with disability) as categories covered by federal hate-crimes statutes, is insane. Haynes notes:

Of the various arguments advanced by some social conservatives against the bill, the one that has gotten the most traction with the public is the charge that the legislation would “criminalize preaching the Gospel and put preachers in the crosshairs,” in the words of a letter sent to senators by 60 conservative leaders in June.

Scary stuff, but is it true?

To illustrate their fears, religious conservatives cite cases in Europe and Canada where a few pastors have been prosecuted in recent years for “hate speech” after they spoke out against homosexuality. These prosecutions are indeed insidious attacks on free speech and free exercise of religion – but they all occurred in countries without a First Amendment.

Haynes then goes on to explain (slowly and in simple terms, as is appropriate for the people buying such fear mongering) why the US Constitution and the legislation itself, which has provisions protecting speech and religious belief, render the prospect of any legal assault on preachers impossible. He also points out that we have long experience with similar state and local laws, where no such problem has even remotely arisen.

Just in case anyone thinks that Haynes is overstating the problem, remember that University of Washington biology student who trotted out that same guff in response the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling that the state's marriage law, which outlawed same-sex civil marriage, violated the equal protection provisions of the state's constitution? She cited, as "evidence" for her fear that churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages, a Swedish Supreme Court decision that overturned, even without benefit of our First Amendment, a conviction of a preacher under a hate speech law (which this legislation is not) for preaching against homosexuality. In short, she saw a situation that could hardly be any more different than our legal system as supposedly relevant to US laws and courts.

The most charitable interpretation of the blindness of people, otherwise intelligent and educated enough to get into a major university, to the baseless nature of their fears is that they have spent a lifetime being barraged by persecution claims by Christians preachers more interested in stroking their parishioners egos (by proclaiming their exceptionalism as nascent martyrs for God) and encouraging donations to stave off the barbarian hordes supposedly lurking just out of sight.

Religion is hardly the only place this sort of scam is practiced. Witness Bush's "War on Terrorism" and the abject fear of some to letting even cleared "detainees" step foot in the US.

But religion has had the most practice at it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


They Recognize Their Own

Jesus Creed is discussing a white paper commissioned by the Biologos Foundation that surveys evangelical Christian theologians as to what barriers they perceive to be the greatest to accepting "theistic evolution" (i.e. evolution at all). Besides being a fascinating insight into the thinking (or lack thereof) of evangelicals, the study's author, Bruce Waltke, described by one of his book publishers as a "leading Old Testament evangelical scholar" providing "conservative commentary" on Genesis, had this as one of the "barriers" he was asking about:

Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.

Christian "apologists" is a nice term for the Discovery Institute drones.

Waltke also has an interesting quote from Phillip Johnson's Darwin On Trial that puts the lie to all the DI's claims that "creationists" are limited to young-Earth believers in a "literal" reading of Genesis:

The essential point of creation has . . . to do with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense, a creationist' is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially mankind) was designed and exists for a purpose [italics his].

But wait a minute ... don't "theistic evolutionists" believe in some sort of design and purpose? Apparently not the "right" sort. The "big tent" isn't quite so big after all.

Interestingly, a full 46% of evangelical theologians don't agree and opted for: "None of the above. I can accept the theory of theistic evolution." Maybe the DI has good reason to hate TEs.

Monday, October 26, 2009


And Now for Something Not Even Very Original

It seems the Seventh-day Adventists are aping the Clergy Letter Project's Evolution Weekend program. They just held their first Creation Sabbath, where such startling presentations were made as:

... evidence for the biblical account of a worldwide flood, including turtle fossils in the United States and whale fossils in Peru that are in the same state of decay, indicating they were likely buried at the same time.

No, I haven't a clue either. Fossils in "decay"? Weathering or erosion I know about. The matrix may break down. But decay? ... as a dating technique? And why would it be surprising that turtles and whales were buried at the same time?

At least they didn't have the ol' microevolution versus macroevolution business. This time it was called "micro-evolution" and "mega-evolution." Nothing like a cosmetic change to freshen things up!

But never mind. This was my favorite piece of the article:

"All through history, there isn't an idea - no matter how ludicrous, no matter how stupid, no matter how contrary to the basic views of Christianity - that we're not going to find some 'progressive' Christians wanting to incorporate," said Goldstein, who edits the church's Adult Bible Study Guide. "I don't buy into the idea that they're the Galileos of their time and that we're retarding progress."

The whole idea of taking Genesis' creation stories as a literal historical account is a relatively recent one with its roots in the "back to fundamentals" movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in reaction to the "higher criticism" of the Bible and general revulsion among conservative Christians with Modernism. So denigrating others for incorporating bad ideas into Christianity is not a good move. If I were them, I wouldn't be using the words "ludicrous" and "stupid" so freely when talking about ideas. "Retarding" and all its cognates might also be words for them to avoid.

Also in the category of things that can end up ugly:

Pat Hamoodi ... said she attended to see the issue of creation discussed by some of the church's experts. She was raised in an atheist home and said she wants to debate her family on the matter of origins "in a good way."

"I came here to get ammunition, you could say," Hamoodi said.

I'm sure her foot appreciates it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


British Reserve

Wow ... just wow:

More than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in schoolscience lessons – a proportion higher than in the US.

An Ipsos Mori survey questioned 11,768 adults from 10 countries on how the theory of evolution should be taught in school science lessons.

About 54% of the 973 polled Britons agreed with the view: "Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism."

In the US, of 991 adults responding to the survey, which was organised by the British Council, 51% agreed that evolution should be on the curriculum alongside other theories, like intelligent design.

Needless to say, British educators are appalled:

Lewis Wolpert, emeritus professor of biology at University College London (UCL), who is vice-president of the British Humanist Association, said: "I am appalled. It shows how ignorant the public is. Intelligent design and creationism have no connection with science and are purely religious concepts. There is no evidence for them at all. They must be kept out of science lessons."

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at UCL, said: "This shows the danger of religions being allowed to buy schools, hijack lessons and pretend that they have anything useful to say about science – which, by definition, they do not. The figure seems much too high, although no doubt there is a substantial minority that does think this."

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It would be wholly wrong to include creationism in the science curriculum. An overwhelming body of evidence, not assertion, supports the concept of evolution and therefore evolution must form the basis of the science curriculum. Consideration of creationism might not be out of place in religious education."

Fern Elsdon-Baker, head of the British Council's Darwin Now programme, which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birthday this year wins the understatement of the year award:

Overall these results may reflect the need for a more sophisticated approach to teaching and communicating how science works as a process.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Philosophy and Philosophers

I had started on a fairly long response to Russell Blackford's reply to Massimo Pigliucci's blog post "On the scope of skeptical inquiry." But much of it has been overtaken by Russell's comments here. Specifically:

As for the claim about the age of the Earth, the ultimate answer I want to give is that rational inquiry rejects 6000 years as the correct age and settles on 4 to 5 billion years. It really doesn't matter whether that is characterised as a philosophical claim or a scientific claim. The reasons for settling on that answer are available, in principle, to anyone who is engaged in rational inquiry. But even if we say that it is ultimately a philosophical claim, it is a claim that philosophers make with the assistance of scientists.

The first alternative appears to argue that "rational inquiry" is coextensive with "science" ... if you do one, you are automatically doing the other. This seems to go with Russell's assertion that there are no simple and uncontroversial demarcations between science and other areas of human intellectual activity. I have to disagree. Science has one consistent marker: an insistence on testability through empiric evidence. It is not exclusive to science but if something is not empirically testable we can say it is not "science." What we call "philosophy" has no such requirement ... though, as Pigliucci pointed out, philosophy can, and almost undoubtably should, be informed by science, which does track with Russell's second alternative.

That does not, however, make philosophy identical to science. We can philosophically (and rationally) inquire about the nature and abilities of a god given any alleged premises about that god, without being able to empirically test them. This is why I disagree with Russell that it can be said to be scientific to "deduce what kinds of events would contradict" an "all-benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God" and then look to see if the empiric evidence contradicts such a being, as a scientific exercise. The problem, as I said in response to Jerry Coyne's piece, is what empiric standard are humans going to apply to what "benevolence" should look like from the perspective of a non-human, all-benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing God? While the hunt for empiric evidence is within the warrant of science, determining what evidence would contradict such a being is not. It takes a philosopher for that (assuming it can be done at all). In short, I think Russell is unnecessarily smudging the difference between "science" and "everything else."

Similarly, I can't agree with Russell's contention that Omphalos is ruled out by science. It is quite true that a scientist can and should reject it (as science) because it is an ad hoc attempt to avoid empiric testability of the claim. (Let's set aside the issue that such ad hoc "rescues" are fairly common in "science".) But that rejection is not because of the operation of the scientific method but because of the philosophy that underlies the adoption of the scientific method. It is the same sort of difference as between determining whether a person's actions have violated a law and whether the law should ever have been enacted in the first place. A person cannot rationally do something that violates the agreed-to method of science and still call his or her activity "science," but he or she can certainly rationally (even if wrongly) argue that the method of science is not correct or not guaranteed to deliver "truth" in any particular situation given certain premises, such as "revelation trumps empiricism."

It is not at all clear to me that Russell's formulation would permit us to say the Intelligent Design Creationism is not "science." It is certainly "rational," in the sense that it takes a fact of the world -- "apparent design" -- and, in concert with at least one other premise -- that "materialism" is not "true" -- makes an argument that rationally follows from those premises. But if we have to equate it with "science" because it is "rational inquiry" (assuming that Russell is not equating "rational inquiry" with "what Russell thinks") then there seems to me to be something radically wrong with Russell's view of what science is.

There is more to be said but that's enough MEGO for one post.


Philosophy and Scientists

Uh, oh!

Jerry Coyne is "doing" philosophy again.

Predictably, the results are not unlike what happens when other activities are described as "doing" something.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Coyne is claiming that atheism is a scientific position.

The specific occasion for Coyne's assault and battery on philosophy is the post by Massimo Pigliucci, "On the scope of skeptical inquiry," at his blog Rationally Speaking, that I recently quoted:

[L]et us turn to atheism. Once again: it is a philosophical, not a scientific position. Now, I have argued of course that any intelligent philosopher ought to allow her ideas to be informed by science, but philosophical inquiry is broader than science because it includes non-evidence based approaches, such as logic or more broadly reason-based arguments. This is both the strength and the weakness of philosophy when compared to science: it is both broader and yet of course less prone to incremental discovery and precise answers. When someone, therefore, wants to make a scientific argument in favor of atheism — like Dawkins and Jerry Coyne seem to do — he is stepping outside of the epistemological boundaries of science, thereby doing a disservice both to science and to intellectual inquiry.

Coyne professes to be "baffled" by Pigliucci's point (a straight line I will piously pass over) and proceeds to say this:

[L]et's be clear about what atheism is. I'll call "weak sense atheism" the position that, I think, most atheists hold. It is this: "There is no convincing evidence for God, so I withhold belief." This can be further refined, as Dawkins does in The God Delusion, into the statement, "There could be lots of evidence for God, but none has appeared. Therefore I think it improbable that God exists." This is the stand that informs the atheist bus posters that read, in part, "There probably is no God."

The second form of disbelief, which I call "strong sense atheism," is the flat assertion, "I know there is no God." Note that this elides a bit into the "probably-no-God" position, depending on how strong you think the evidence is. The existence of suffering in the world, for example, convinces many, but not all, that there is not a beneficent God.

Okay. Coyne is free to try to define "atheism" in anyway he wants, though there is more than a little circularity lurking here. Atheism is "scientific" because it only accepts the same sort of "convincing" empiric evidence that science does. If so, then Coyne is right. If atheism is simply an application of the scientific "method" (whatever we may decide that is), then atheism is, tautologically, science. But is that the case?

Let's take a look at Coyne's examples:

So let's take weak-sense atheism (WSA) as the default stance. In its very weakest, "no-evidence-for-God" sense, WSA is absolutely scientific. After all, what is science but the claim that one needs empirical evidence before accepting something as a reality? When one says, "I see no evidence for a god, and therefore refuse to accept his/her/its reality," one is saying nothing different from, "I see no evidence for the view that plants have feelings, and therefore I don't accept the idea that they do."

What about the "probabilistic" form of WSA? That's equally scientific. If there could be evidence for a phenomenon, but repeated investigations fail to give that evidence, one becomes less willing to accept that phenomenon. In this sense, being a WSA is no different from making a perfectly scientific claim like this: "I think it pretty improbable that the Loch Ness monster exists." After all, if there were a giant reptile trapped in the Loch, presumably you could find it. And people have tried. They've looked underwater with cameras, hung around the lake trying to photograph it, and conducted sonar and satellite investigations. Nothing has turned up. In all probability, the Monster is a myth.

Based on these searches, is it then a "philosophical position" to say that it's highly unlikely that Nessie exists? I don't think so. It's an evidence-based position — in other words, a scientific one. Similarly, the god that many people believe in, who is said to be beneficent, answer prayers, heal the sick, come back from the dead, and the like, is contradicted by evidence: the failure of prayer and spiritual healing, the existence of inexplicable evil, and so on. There are a million ways that a theistic god could have shown itself to us Earthlings, but it hasn't happened.

Now, let us set aside the saying that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Is it true that simply because a scientist finds no "convincing evidence" for something, he or she is somehow duty bound to reject it or that it is "scientific" to do so? What if I were to hold up a glass of water and state: "If I don't see evidence of a neutrino hitting this glass of water in the next five minutes, I will conclude that it is very probable that neutrinos don't exist"? Would that be a "scientific" conclusion? Or does the absence of evidence have to be tied to a very specific and focused set of circumstances before I can even begin to take it as evidence of absence? In short, how do we determine the absence of "convincing evidence"?

Sure, it is easy enough to search Loch Ness for empiric evidence of a giant reptile ... after all, we have experience of reptiles and lakes and a set of empiric rules by which to locate one in the limited space of the other, especially if the former is "giant." But what would be the empiric evidence for a supernatural being (i.e. a being that is not subject to "natural" evidence) in a conceptually unlimited "reality"?

If we look for the "effects" of such a being -- arguably, "beneficence," "answering" of prayers, "healing" the sick, and the absence of "evil" -- how do we scientifically define those terms? What is the scientific metric by which we determine the existence of beneficence and/or evil and/or their absence? If there is none, then Coyne has already left the empiric boundaries of science and embarked on philosophy.

The "argument from evil" has long been a philosophical issue precisely because there is no empiric answer to it. Quite simply, Coyne's "evidence" for atheism -- the absence of "convincing evidence" for a god (out of an infinite set of possible gods, but leave that aside for the time being) -- is, itself, dependent on determining the motives and abilities of those gods. As Elliott Sober has already pointed out, that amounts to "simply inventing assumptions that help one defend one's pet theory" ... in Coyne's case, atheism ... which is hardly a scientific approach.

Coyne does get one thing right: he is no philosopher. One wonders, then, why he keeps insisting on proving it.


Coyne points to Russell Blackford's much more (almost by definition) nuanced response to Pigliucci's post that I may have something to say about once I have digested it more fully.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Philosophers and Science

A thought:

Darwin expected theologians, people untrained in scientific investigation, and even those scientists who were strongly religious to object violently to his theory of evolution. He had also anticipated the skepticism of even the most dispassionate scientists. He had not labored over twenty years for nothing gathering facts to support his theory and attempting to discount those that apparently conflicted with it. But he had not anticipated the vehemence with which even the most respected scientists and philosophers in his day would denounce his efforts as not being properly "scientific."...

Darwin had both the good fortune and the misfortune to begin his scientific career at precisely that moment in history when philosophy of science came into its own in England. Of course, philosophers from Plato and Aristotle had always written on epistemology and, after the scientific revolution, they were presented with the added advantage and obligation of reconciling their philosophies with the current state of science. Some of these philosophers were also themselves scientists. ...

Commencing with John Herschel's Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), English-speaking scientists became self-conscious about the proper method of doing science. During the years 1837-1842, when Darwin was residing in London and working on the species problem, the great debate on the philosophy of science erupted between William Whewell (1794-1866) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). ...

In the nineteenth century, "to be scientific" meant to be like John Herschel's extension of physical astronomy to the sidereal regions. Thus, Darwin was especially anxious to hear the opinion of Herschel, the "great philosopher" referred to in the opening paragraph of the Origin. He sent Herschel a copy of his book and wrote to Lyell to pass on any comments which the great physicist might make since "I should excessively like to hear whether I produce any effect on such a mind." Herschel's opinion was rapidly forthcoming. Darwin wrote to Lyell, "I have heard, by a roundabout channel, that Herschel says my book 'is the law of higgeldy-piggeldy.' What this exactly means I do not know, but it is evidently very contemptuous. If true this is a great blow and discouragement." In the face of such a rejection by the most eminent philosopher-scientist of the century, it is easy to understand Darwin's pleasure when he discovered in an equally roundabout way that another great philosopher, John Stuart Mill, thought that his reasoning in the Origin was "in the most exact accordance with the strict principles of logic." On closer examination, however, Mill's endorsement can be seen to be not nearly reassuring. Darwin had properly used the Method of Hypothesis, but this method belonged to the logic of discovery, not proof. In spite of twenty years' labor, Darwin had failed to provide proof for his theory of evolution by natural selection.

- David L. Hull, Darwin and His Critics

Thursday, October 22, 2009



A thought:

[L]et us turn to atheism. Once again: it is a philosophical, not a scientific position. Now, I have argued of course that any intelligent philosopher ought to allow her ideas to be informed by science, but philosophical inquiry is broader than science because it includes non-evidence based approaches, such as logic or more broadly reason-based arguments. This is both the strength and the weakness of philosophy when compared to science: it is both broader and yet of course less prone to incremental discovery and precise answers. When someone, therefore, wants to make a scientific argument in favor of atheism — like Dawkins and Jerry Coyne seem to do — he is stepping outside of the epistemological boundaries of science, thereby doing a disservice both to science and to intellectual inquiry.

- Massimo Pigliucci, "On the scope of skeptical inquiry," Rationally Speaking


Plan Design from Outer Space

Remember John Lynch's article a while back, "The Roots of ID," about the Discovery Institute's claim at its faith + evolution website (set up to counter the Biologos Foundation's efforts to convince more Christians that evolution and faith are compatible) that the Intelligent Design Movement wasn't born in the immediate aftermath of Edwards v. Aguillard by the cdesign proponentsists working on Of Pandas and People?

John demonstrated quite thoroughly that no one was saying that the design argument was new ... far from it ... the issue was when the modern ID Movement, aimed at getting ID into public school science curricula or, at least, watering down education in evolutionary science, was born. John also notes the irony of the DI quoting extensively from Christian and other theistic sources to show that ID predated the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, at the same time as they are claiming it is non-religious modern science.

They (sort of) attempt to avoid that problem by pointing to Fred Hoyle (sometimes described as an agnostic and sometimes as an atheist), who once in 1982 used the words in that order, as the person who "coined [the term] in its contemporary scientific usage," even though no one knew about Hoyle's use until sometime in 2007, way too late for him to have been IDs intellectual progenitor.

But there was one modern usage that the DI missed ... one that bears a lot in common with ID.

Let's take a brief detour to this press release:

Repeated sexual scandals in the Roman Catholic Church! - The Canadian Council of Raelian Bishops suggests sexual robots as a solution to protect the victims of Roman Catholic priests

The comic possibilities have already been mined by The Sensuous Curmudgeon. What interests me is this:

"The Raelian philosophy not only advocates sexual freedom, which naturally protects our members from these mental deviances, but is also in favour of the use of sexual robots ; as Rael describes them in his book 'Intelligent Design', written in 1975, and as today's scientists are now suggesting."

There you have it! An earlier use than Hoyle's, arguing for design in a scientific context.

You have to wonder why the DI isn't all over it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The George Orwell Was a Pussy Award

Sheriff Jim R. Schwiesow, Ret. (you're going to be soooo relieved by those last three letters) "thinks" that the Order of the Illuminati have taken over the United States (and, almost as an afterthought, that Barack Obama is a Kenya-born commie) that achieved that end with ... wait for it ... the founding of the American Federal Reserve System in 1913.

There's a lot of other delusions rattling around loose in what ever ex-Sheriff Schwiesow is presently using to store the brain that has leaked out of his ears but he gets The George Orwell Was a Pussy Award for this:

[O]ur nation is now totally - and irrevocably - controlled and in the grasp of the infernal democratic tyrants that carry out the agenda for the implementation of a worldwide demonic kingdom.
War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength ... hah! ... Democracy is Tyranny!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The World Is About to End

This is for Yankees fans.

Jorge Posada stole second.

... then got caught in a rundown that the umpires blew the call on ... the third bad call but, so far, its been a wash.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Muslims Quoting PZ

... and favorably at that!

Sheila Musaji, in The American Muslim, reviews The Atlas of Creation by Harun Yahya (otherwise known as Adnan Oktar). She notes:

Yahya has offered a huge sum of money ($10 trillion Turkish lira or $8,010,890,000,000. Eight trillion, ten billion, eight hundred and ninety million dollars) to any scientist who can bring forward an intermediate fossil, however, it is doubtful that there is any scientific evidence that he would accept. One scientist, P.Z. Meyers, at the University of Minnesota said: "The US government should immediately send a plane to pick up Mr Oktar, bring him to our country, and take him on a guided tour of the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History, accompanied by Niles Eldredge, Kevin Padian, Jerry Coyne, Sean Carroll, and the entire scientific staff of those museums. Afterwards, they can accept the check from Mr Oktar, run down to the local bank and cash it, and use one trillion dollars to resolve the current financial crisis, seven trillion can be sunk immediately into the American educational system, and they can send the change left over to me as a reward for coming up with this brilliant plan. Unless… You don't think… Adnan Oktar couldn't possibly be lying about how much money he has, could he? And he couldn't possibly by planning to weasel out of accepting any honest evidence, could he?" This offer by Yahya has also been made by Christian creationists, but with much smaller amounts offered.

The most infamous creationist piker "offering" a piddling a $250,000 cash prize was that notable jailbird, Kent Hovind. Oh, wait a minute! Oktar has also been sent to prison! Are we seeing a trend here?

Amusingly, despite, as Ms. Musaji points out, resorting to all the standard creationist and IDeological fare -- misrepresentation of science, confusing evolutionary theory with social Darwinism, quote mining, claims of the imminent demise of "Darwinism," etc., etc. -- Oktar actually accuses ID of being a Masonic conspiracy to foist Deism on an unsuspecting world.

Henry Morris was (and here's a phrase I never thought I'd utter) more nuanced in his approach to ID, recognizing that:

[ID} is not really a new approach, using basically the same evidence and arguments used for years by scientific creationists but made to appear more sophisticated with complex nomenclature and argumentation. ...

[ID advocates are guilty of] use of the same arguments and evidences we Biblical creationists have used for years, while simultaneously trying to distance themselves from us. Our adherence to Biblical literalism is ridiculed by evolutionists, and the ID advocates would be embarrassed to be tarred with the same brush.

Nor was Morris unable to see through the subterfuge:

Dembski himself may not believe such nonsense, but he is trying to build a very large tent, allowing anyone except pure materialists to take refuge there.

Anyway, Ms. Musaji covers much ground as to the execrable Adnar, with many links to refutations, which alone makes for a good resource.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Wilkins World Tour Meets Howlerfest

John Wilkins' World Tour arrived with much pomp and circumstances in New York where he was waylaid by a group of Howler Monkeys (and one refugee) from the newsgroup and forced to consume copious amounts of beer and dead animals against his will. Below is a photo* taken before all the debauchery had taken full effect.

As you can see, the Howlers were using mind control rays to compel Wilkins to consume the comestibles.

The nine-fingered philosopher uses his favorite pointing device to accentuate an argument.

Professor Stephanie Stephanie was already a little blurry due to drink.

I think there will be other photos of the proceedings online eventually.

A good time was had by all ... and maybe someday I'll remember it.


* From left to right: Matt and Cathy Silberstein, Maude Morris, seated is Paul Gans wife (whose name has, shamefully, slipped my so-called mind - Update: John has helpfully supplemented my hindbrain: Gail), Bill Morris, our host, Chris Thompson (in the wonderful Hawaiian shirt), The Great Man Himself, Mitch Coffey, Pauls Gans and the disreputable sort on the right, about to break into a rousing chorus of "I'm a Lumberjack and I'm OK," is yours truly. The picture was taken by Chis' daughter Jade.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


Waiting on Wilkins

I started blogging because of the 2005 New York visit of the Antipodian Philosopher ... the bastard!

Tomorrow I should be seeing him again at Chris Thompson's place.

Between that and the Yankees, I'm not very focused on blogging tonight.

Take a look at John's last visit instead.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Flaming Straw

Kelly Boggs, a columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, is trying to play the guilt card:

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus the word "liberal" is defined as: respectful and accepting of behavior or opinions different from one's own.

The dictionary and thesaurus also provides several synonyms for the word. Among those listed are the following: tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded.

You would think that a person who embraces the concept of liberalism would be, of all people, open to debate, dialogue and inquiry on most any subject. But the new liberals, or as I refer to them, "neo-liberals," are among the most narrow-minded and closed individuals you will ever meet.

Supposedly, those "neo-liberals" flunk the test for real liberals, because they don't gladly let those who deny anthropogenic global warming, Intelligent Design Creationists and those who would deny basic human rights to gays equal time in academic settings or to disrupt those neo-liberals' own activities.

"Acceptance" and "tolerance" does not mean "treating as equal." Fred Phelps and his delusional band of America haters will have their freedom of speech protected in our liberal democratic (small "d") system but he need not be invited to the White House to shout out his views at Presidential news conferences.

Dictionaries may report that common usage assigns "respectful" to liberals but it has never been the case on the ground ... at least as far back as John Hancock and "fat George." Nor should it be. Scientists who were "respectful" of astrology or ID would be failing their duty to educate the public as to what science is. Being unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded and/or open-minded does not entail tolerance of misrepresentations and outright lies. Which is not to say that Expelled truthfully characterized academia's response to ID.

I wonder if Boggs can spell "strawman" well enough to look that up.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ice Skating

A thought:

From the late nineteenth century on, religious people who have thought hard about the Darwinian view of the history of life have found it deeply troubling. George John Romanes, author of books on religion and works of science, found Darwin's vision agonizing. It seemed to him that the universe had 'lost its soul of loveliness." In his groundbreaking The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James articulated more extensively this sense of loss, offering an arresting image. "For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting, and the inevitable day drawing near when the last film of it will disappear, and to be drowned ignominiously will be the human creature's portion. The merrier the skating, the warmer and more sparkling the sun by day, and the ruddier the bonfires at night, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation." Given this picture of life as early twentieth-century science seems to depict it, James can only view cheerfulness, or even the absence of despair, as based on false optimism, on failure to face reality It is hardly surprising that he sees religious impulses as cries, triggered by the need for something different or for something more -- "Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!"

Perhaps this is overwrought, even neurotic? I don't think so. Romanes and James, like the evangelical Christians who rally behind intelligent design today, appreciate that Darwinism is subversive. They recognize that the Darwinian picture of life is at odds with a particular kind of religion, providentialist religion, as I shall call it. A large number of Christians, not merely those who maintain that virtually all of the Bible must be read literally, are providentialists. For they believe that the universe has been created by a Being who has a great design, a Being who cares for his creatures, who observes the fall of ever sparrow and who is especially concerned with humanity. Yet the story of a wise and loving Creator who has planned life on earth, letting it unfold over four billion years by the processes envisaged in evolutionary theory, is hard to sustain when you think about the details.

- Philip Kitcher, Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Converse Sneakers

In my last post, I pointed out that Michael Behe, despite all his and the Discovery Institute's denials that ID is either religious or creationism (the latter based on a claim that "creationism" is only properly applied to YEC), is peddling ID as part of a series of lectures presented by The International Institute for Culture, a "non-profit educational and research center dedicated to Catholic cultural renewal." Not only that, but another presenter in the series is Hugh Miller, a notorious young-Earth creationist. An anonymous commenter asked:

And the fact that Dawkins and others are the darlings of atheists and speak at their events is, of course, of no relevance ... ?
It is a fair question but one that has an obvious answer, as I pointed out:

Not particularly ... unless you want to contend that Michael Collins, Ken Miller, Francis Ayala, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and many, many more supporters of the science of evolution are all atheists. The fact is that, with the exception of a few contrarians (who are always around), ID advocates overwhelmingly and obviously are pushing religious objections to evolution. It is doubtful that anywheres near a majority of scientists who support evolution are atheists and even fewer allege that evolution somehow disproves any god.

In other words, there is no evidence that evolution is a position taken to advance atheism while the reverse is true of ID.
Here is some more evidence on that point, in the form of an article from Inside Higher Ed discussing the travails of science educators at Christian colleges who want to teach evolutionary science fairly and accurately. One of those is Richard Colling, who "left Olivet Nazarene University, where he taught for 30 years, after a dispute in which he was barred from teaching general biology or having Random Designer, his book, taught at the university that is his alma mater."

Of course, Behe's participation in a program instigated by a religious organization that also sponsors YEC advocates does not, on its own, demonstrate that ID is religious and/or creationism. But it is yet another piece on the mountain of evidence that ID's real focus is, in fact, both religion and creationism. But, when even educators at institutions run by conservative Christian sects recognize the validity of evolutionary science, it is clear that the impetus for evolution is not atheism.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Birds of a Feather

Of course Intelligent Design is not religious. Neither is it creationism.

The fact that Michael Behe is participating in a lecture series organized by The International Institute for Culture, which describes the series as:

Leading Catholic scientists, ethicists and cultural analysts will present information that supports the event's theme: "Latest Scientific Discoveries Challenge Darwinian Evolution's Fitness to Survive." The IIC is a non-profit educational and research center dedicated to Catholic cultural renewal.

... is purely coincidental.

So is the fact that Behe is sharing this forum with:

Hugh Miller, research chemist, and co-author of the paper "Recent C[arbon]-14 dating of fossils including dinosaur bone collagen," will also challenge generally accepted thinking in his speech titled, "Removing the Darwinian fig leaf: what modern carbon dating reveals about the true age of the dinosaur."

That would appear to be the same Hugh Miller who, according to Bradley T. Lepper, the Curator of Archaeology of the Ohio Historical Society, is associated with the Creation Research, Science Education Foundation and, after obtaining "several fragments of fossilized dinosaur bone from the paleontological collections of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History 'by disguising the nature of the creationist science group' ... and by misrepresenting the nature of their proposed research," claimed that radiocarbon dating showed that "dinosaurs lived with man … as recently as 10,000 years ago." The sordid tale of how Miller, et al., "achieved" those "results" is instructive.

In short, Miller is a young-Earth creationist ... one of those people who the Discovery Institute claims is nothing like them! John Haas, the president of both the IIC and National Catholic Bioethics Center, even goes so far as to say "There is fundamentally no opposition between science and religion." Well, there sure is when you promote YEC and ID.

There is even the "teach the controversy" ploy, yet another prediction of the imminent demise of Darwinism and an admission that this is a political campaign instead of science. Timothy Murnane, the event organizer, said:

It is important for young Catholics to hear both sides of the story to assist them in their own accountability in faith decisions. I believe Darwinian evolution will be discredited this generation. We want to reach as many decision makers and educators as possible.

Do they even listen to themselves?


Arrrgh! John Lynch beat me to this.

Monday, October 12, 2009



This is why I like PZ Myers much more than Jerry Coyne.

When PZ decides to talk about philosophy, he at least manages to be very much in the ballpark, while Coyne has difficulty differentiating his gluteus maximus from his ginglymus.

Not only does PZ cite my favorite, much underlined, article of Stephen Jay Gould's, he creates this lovely metaphor of the relationship between science and philosophy:

Philosophers, sweet as they may be, are most definitely not the "arbiters" of the cognitive structure of science. They are more like interested spectators, running alongside the locomotive of science, playing catch-up in order to figure out what it is doing, and occasionally shouting words of advice to the engineer, who might sometimes nod in interested agreement but is more likely to shrug and ignore the wacky academics with all the longwinded discourses. Personally, I think the philosophy of science is interesting stuff, and can surprise me with insights, but science is a much more pragmatic operation that doesn't do a lot of self-reflection.

I would just tinker with the metaphor a little. The philosophers are not running alongside the engine ... they're more like journalists, sitting on the coal car, trying to report on what's going on, but every bit as interested in the results lest the train derail, with dire consequences to all, not least themselves.

Nor is there any engineer. Instead, there are thousands, upon thousands, of mechanics crawling all over the engine, even as it runs at full speed, each tinkering with some part of the machinery ... sometimes just tightening a bolt, sometimes pulling off a piece and throwing it overboard, and, very rarely, causing large parts of the engine to be rebuilt on the fly ... all without anyone in charge. A few of the reporters (like David Hull, Robert Pennock and Elliott Sober) can't resist jumping down off the coal car and lending a hand to the mechanics, sometimes to rather good effect. But they, most definitely, are not the arbiters of what is going on.

The reason that there are "longwinded discourses" is because the reporters are writing a vast, complex and nearly impossible to summarize story with millions of authors, and no end in sight short of the death of our species.

Also, PZ has a sense of humor which, as far as can be told, Coyne is seriously bereft of, self deprecating or otherwise.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


The End

Due to "real life" (including such things as baseball playoffs), I've been remiss in getting to Nick Smyth's last two responses to criticisms of his article, that he characterizes as:

7. You keep using this word "Science". But you say science is indefinable! How can you keep using it? (John)

8. You're overestimating creationists. They will not accept your epistemology, and they are totally insensitive to arguments which show their views to be false. This new strategy will not work (John, Matzke, Penner).

Nick's argument is:

It is reasonable to demand that the latter kind of political use of a word [to exclude certain people and ideas from public life] be backed up by a complete definition of the word, so that we don't end up making massive practical mistakes, excluding good ideas and including bad ones. In fact, this is just what has happened: popular definitions of "science" actually include all kinds of wacky theories and exclude important research programmes which don't fit with the standard definitions.

As to "practical mistakes," I've pointed out before that the courts are not interested in whether, say, string theory, is or is not "science." The only context in which the courts will become involved in such questions is when there is reason to believe that the government is promoting some constitutionally impermissible position by dressing it up as science. No one is being excluded from "public life." IDers can go on advocating for their ideas -- and others are free to oppose them. At most, they are being precluded from acting, as part of some political majority, to deprive the minority of their rights. The advocates of ID are free to continue to try to show that their position is, in fact, "science" by the very standards scientists use to decide that issue, which does not entail a "complete definition of the word."

Scientists themselves don't need a philosophically complete definition to discern pseudoscience. As PZ Myers has pointed out, scientists do not pay much attention to philosophers ... and, in my opinion, rightly so. Philosophers of science are like reporters who come along after the fact and try to describe what scientists have done, rather than arbiters of what scientists should be doing. Furthermore, since science (unlike the law) is an open ended activity, scientists need not make final judgments. Science can tolerate entertaining "wacky theories" and excluding "important research programmes" for a time, since the correct view of these things will eventually emerge. The law has no such luxury and must make a decision now on the rights of the particular parties to the case before it. That is why I kept emphasizing that the courts use criteria intended to measure such things as ID against science as it is presently practiced. If ID can meet the criteria collectively applied by the scientific community, it will automatically be accepted by the courts.

That leaves partisan politics as the arena in which political use of the word "science" must be considered. I don't think it is necessary to document that partisan politics is not significantly affected by philosophical definitions of anything. Nick's own claim, that cranks may one day discover that there is no complete definition of science and use it to devastating effect in the political/cultural wars, in fact refutes his larger claim, since they long ago discovered it and have been arguing it to virtually no discernible effect. That is hardly surprising, since partisan political use of the word "science" does not aspire to any definition of "science" beyond "that which supports my political beliefs." Even the broad definition of science that Nick recognizes is no barrier to this sort of usage. And it is naive in the extreme to believe that any definition of "truth" Nick might, someday, come up with would be any greater deterrent to the partisan usage of either "science" or "truth."

I've already dealt with Nick's assertions about Supreme Court Justices being able to rule creationism out of public schools because it is "false" by some criteria Nick is unwilling or unable to set out, and his contention that courts are "diverted" by constitutional issues surrounding freedom of religion. I'm afraid those claims are the result of a deep ignorance on Nick's part of how the law in general, and the US constitutional system in particular, works.

Nor is Nick correct that the courts are exercising Machiavellian realpolitiks. The ends do not justify the means but the means must be suitable to the ends intended. Our constitutional ends are aimed at giving people the right to believe what they want, rational or not, including the minority. The means, therefore, must be calculated to meet those ends: the balancing of competing claims to constitutional rights. Our system is not intended to create some ideal Platonic Republic of perfect philosophic consistency -- a state, incidentally, which is of such immense tyrannical potential that a worse government can hardly be imagined. The Founders may have envisioned "rational and respectful public discourse" but history shows that those very people -- Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, et al. -- quickly abandoned any pretense to that ideal when they entered partisan politics themselves. The election politics of the Founders were, if anything, even worse than what we see today, with scurrilous personal attacks the standard of the day.

The courts, insulated from partisan politics at least to a great degree, are concerned with a rational determination of what the majority can constitutionally impose on the minority and whether the majority can avoid constitutional limitations on their power by simply calling something "science," even though it doesn't qualify under even the broadest definitions of the word. On those premises, the courts have, so far, done well in making rational distinctions.

There is also a social context, where partisans of religion attempt to convince the uncommitted populace that what they are pushing is "science" and proponents of what scientists actually do try to counter their claims. This is secondarily involved in partisan politics, in that, to the extent that either side is successful, it will affect whether or not the courts get involved at all, by affecting whether or not the majority takes actions that may violate the rights of the minority. Nick may want to recommend a more sedate and philosophical attitude on the part of those attempting to maintain freedom of conscience but it is hardly obvious that such a strategy is either rational or likely to succeed. Nor is it obvious that simply asserting that creationism is "false," based on unspecified (and unspecifiable?) criteria is any more rational or success oriented.

Again, means must be tailored to the ends intended. If the end is to convince people who are neither steeped in nor much interested in philosophical niceties, speaking forcefully in broad terms accessible to the philosophically uninitiated is more likely to achieve that result than musings over epistemology.

That's enough of this "controversy."

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The Two Faces of DI

And it gets funnier!

Robert Crowther is at the Discovery Institute's Ministry of Misinformation further kvetching about the cancellation by the California Science Center of a screening of the Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion. It's the usual PR spin not worth much attention.

However, Crowther ends his rant with this:

Rather than debate the science, Darwinists try to suppress it. They simply can't stand to let people know the truth about the shoddy case for Darwinian evolution.
Now back when they did get to show Darwin's Dilemma at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the museum's response was to issue a statement that read, in part:

Although the museum does not support unscientific views masquerading as science, such as those espoused by the Discovery Institute, the museum does respect the religious beliefs of all people. ... The museum does not discriminate against recognized campus organizations based on their religious beliefs, political philosophy, scientific literacy, or any other factors.
It also scheduled a lecture addressing the actual science about the Cambrian Explosion and kept the museum open for free before and after the showing of the Discovery Institute's film.

When discussing the museum's reaction to the screening at Sam Noble, Jonathan Wells of the DI quoted with approval Oklahoma Daily columnist Jelani Sims to the effect:

Rather than hijacking the night of the documentary presentation with an opposing seminar and free extra hours of operation, it should have let the event stand on its own. And, rather than releasing a statement of vehement opposition, thinly veiled in tolerance, it should have said nothing.
In short, the DI wants the right to rent scientific institutions, and assume the seeming legitimacy that comes with the location, but, if those institutions want to counter the pseudoscience being peddled by the DI in the best way possible (instead of holding phony "debates"), by presenting detailed explanations and showing the public the very evidence that the DI is claiming isn't there, that's somehow unfair. They are demanding access to these institutions in order to call the very scientific work done by them "shoddy" and the institutions should say nothing in response!

And then people like Rhology wonder why we call them dishonest!


Friday, October 09, 2009


Taking In the Viewpoint

Heh! I reported before that the IMAX theater at the California Science Center in Los Angeles had been rented to show the Discovery Institute's pet piece of propaganda Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion.

Not so fast!

It seems that the Center has cancelled the screening and accompanying prayer tent meeting, entitled "The Darwin Debates: A Forum for Dialogue." The Center cites unspecified "issues related to the contract."

Naturally, the DI is claiming pressure from "Darwinist censors" and from "the Smithsonian Institution, which clearly was upset by publicity promoting the screening that mentioned the true fact that the Science Center is an official 'Smithsonian Affiliate.'”

The last charge is notably and expectedly unaccompanied by any evidence on that point but, on the other hand, as I noted previously, the Institute was burned by the DI once before (not to mention its complete misrepresentation of the Richard Sternberg affair) and the Institute could hardly have been pleased by the second attempted hijacking of its reputation by a pseudoscience.

But most interesting of all is the DI's claim that the Center's action was "viewpoint discrimination."

Funny, I thought ID was science, not a "viewpoint."


Update: Abbie at ERV has a line on what those unspecified "issues related to the contract" might be.


Thursday, October 08, 2009


Peanut Butter and Bananas ... Yum!


There is a new entry in the "How to Turn Food Into Arguments for God" Sweepstakes. The ever popular and ridiculous Ray Comfort opened the contest with his Argumentum ad Bananae:

Now Chuck Missler has countered with peanut butter:

It seems that Chuckie thinks that if abiogenesis is right, there should be new life popping out of every food jar.

Now, of course, we don't have any good handle on how the first life arose but the processing our food undergoes is pretty well designed to make sure that the possible set of conditions (that have occurred to us so far) that could have lead to life would not be present in our foodstuffs. Even if some new life form arose now, it would have to contend with other life forms, which have had a billion or two years evolutionary head start, that would find the new guy on the block both tasty and incredibly defenseless. None of this bears on the massive evidence we have that life, once it arose, has evolved.

But, hey! When have creationists ever let ignorance stop them?


Via Tim Bousquet

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Hearing Footsteps

Uh, oh.

We're in trouble now:

In her new book -- "The Evolution Conspiracy, Vol. 1: Exposing Life's Inexplicable Origins & The Cult of Darwin" (Slipdown Mountain Publications, 2009) -- Lisa A. Shiel tackles the claims of evolution scientists without promoting either Creationism or Intelligent Design. She exposes the intellectual sleight-of-hand used by evolution supporters and offers a succinct, thoroughly documented, and fully explained explanation readily accessible to non-scientists. Taking a strictly secular approach, she analyzes current evolution theories and asks the difficult questions too many scientists prefer to duck.

Now we have someone who must have the knowledge to knock down our house of cards and we won't be able to dismiss her because she is a creationist.

We'd better check her out:

Lisa A. Shiel researches and writes about everything strange, from Bigfoot and UFOs to alternative history. ... Lisa has a master's degree in library science and was previously the chief investigator for Michigan's chapter of the Mutual UFO Network ... Lisa's other nonfiction books are Backyard Bigfoot: The True Story of Stick Signs, UFOs & the Sasquatch (a finalist in ForeWord Magazine's 2006 Book of the Year Awards) and Strange Michigan.
Ummm ... never mind!


Hamburger University

You can go to The Sensuous Curmudgeon for the slapstick about why "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City."

This is what I find important:

... survey results — presented at a September conference of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers and due to be published in an upcoming Kansas Biology Teacher journal ... [found that] ... [t]he percentage of biology teachers from different states who thought that creation has a valid scientific foundation were: Kentucky teachers, 69 percent; Oklahoma, 48 percent; South Dakota, 39 percent; Ohio, 38 percent; Illinois, 30 percent; Georgia, 30 percent; Louisiana, 29 percent; and Kansas, 24 percent.

Mamma, you aint got a choice but to let your children grow up to flip burgers ...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


And On .. And On ...

To continue (but, gentle readers, with the end at least hoving into view) with Nick Smyth's response to criticisms of his article at 3 Quarks Daily, next are his following points:

5. Your division of theories into "true" and "false" is actually the same as the division between "science" and "pseudoscience". You say that the sciences approach the truth and that astrology does not, and this is all we need for distinguishing science from pseudoscience (Matzke, Pieret).

6. Epistemology, or the task of finding general methods with which to arrive at genuine knowledge, is just as difficult (hopeless?) as the task of defining "Science". You say we have no criteria for "Science", but after centuries of effort we also have no criteria for "truth", so you've just pushed the debate back a step into even murkier territory (John, Namit Arora).

These two are my favorite because it is rare that I get accused of being both an advocate of scientism and a skeptic about the ability of science to deliver truth.

Anyone who has read this blog would know that I most certainly don't think that those other things Nick mentions -- "non-scientific activities (such as artistic creation, engagement with literature, first-personal reflection and moral reasoning)" -- cannot arrive at "truths" or that (with the possible exception of how we actually do "moral reasoning") they can be reduced to scientific explanations.

The problem is: what kind of "truth" are we talking about? Nick has appealed to "clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules," as what will deliver truth. What clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules tell us "true" art from "bollocks" art? Or demarck a "true" emotional response to one piece of music and a "bollocks" emotional response to another piece? If moral rules are obvious applications of logical rules, why are there so many different moral principles, many of which are contradictory?

My claim is not that "truth" is the exclusive province of science; it is that the sort of clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules Nick is talking about help to deliver a certain kind of "truth" but not all the things we call "truth." Nick is slurring over the ambiguity in the word "truth" that is every bit as intractable as the ambiguity in the word "science." If one is too vague to use "in order to exclude certain people and ideas from public life" (from Nick's point 7), so is the other. If one can be used for political/social purposes, so can the other, especially in the limited contexts the law is interested in, as I explained in my last post.

Those kind of rules do show up in science but the causal arrow is pointed in the opposite direction. Such rules are not unique to science but are, instead, so clear-cut, so obvious and so widely accepted, that it is inconceivable that the scientific community, acting as a group, would not apply them.

Nick's argument skills really fail him in this section:

I did a large amount of research in preparation for my initial essay, reading anthologies on ancient and modern science, poring over natural philosophy, and delving into 150 years of the demarcation debate. ... Epistemology may be a daunting field, but if a fledgling philosopher can get up off his arse and read Newton, Bacon, Kepler, Mill, Comte, Darwin, Bohr, Einstein, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, Laudan and Gould in order to say something about science, then a scientist can get off his arse and read epistemology before he claims that truth is not definable.

... While I do not claim to have a fully developed theory of why [scientists'] confidence [in science delivering truth] is justified, many other philosophers do, and we cannot accept this criticism until we have been shown that their projects fail.

Quite apart from the fact that it is certainly one of those "clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules" that such appeals to personal authority deserve rejection, Nick is trying to shift the burden of the argument. It is his claim that "truth" is easier to define than "science." But, instead of supporting his argument -- even denying he can do it -- he claims that those who disagree must prove everyone who has made such a claim is wrong before we can doubt the likelihood of ever succeeding. I don't think that's how rational argument is supposed to work.

I've given reasons why, as far as the courts are concerned, a distinction made on the basis of behavior is sufficient. Nick, in order to support his contention that we should only use well-defined concepts to make such distinctions, should give us reasons why "truth" is demonstrably easier to define than "science," which we can then evaluate. Vague assertions that he has seen such reasons in his vast readings and we should trust him ... or else go out looking ourselves, without so much as a hint of where to start ... is nothing but sleight of hand.

Of course scientists think they are discovering truth, not least because they, as a group, do apply those "clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules," perhaps more rigidly than any other group. But most of all, they think science delivers some sort of "truth" because science appears to work. Our knowledge about how the material world operates has clearly and objectively improved over time because of what we call "science," while it is far less clear that the "truth" we garner from art or introspection or moral reasoning has grown greater, though it may have become more refined and more expansive.

I don't think any court could use the kind of "truth" we can get from art "in order to exclude certain people and ideas from public life." But courts can certainly look to the kind of behavior exhibited by the scientific community, including the consistent application of those clear-cut, widely accepted logical rules, and use that, in the limited context of balancing competing claims to constitutional rights, to distinguish "science" from that which is not.


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How to Support Science Education